Friday,26 May, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1338, (30 March - 5 April 2017)
Friday,26 May, 2017
Issue 1338, (30 March - 5 April 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Was Rudyard Kipling wrong?

Prime Minister Theresa May
Prime Minister Theresa May

“Oh East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet,

Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;”

The London attack by a British-born terrorist last week raised many questions. One of them was the content of the speech by Prime Minister Theresa May, who kept alluding to the integrity of British democracy. With a tone of elitism, not unfamiliar in British rhetoric, she declared that Britain is not afraid and “will stand in the face of terror”. Is there an implication that others are afraid? “Our resolve will never waver in the face of terrorism”. What other country that has wavered or showed fear from deadly terror attacks?

“We meet here in the oldest of all parliaments because we know that democracy and the values it entails will always prevail.” Apart from being unoriginal, what exactly are those values that may be unknown to others... free speech, liberty, equality, human rights, the rule of law? Are those human values not shared by all? Why, even those under autocratic rule, long, yearn and fight for those values. “No one will silence our democracy.” No one is trying to. Quite the contrary, it is much admired as any true democracies are... rather there is a strong desire to emulate it.

But how democratic was the mighty British empire with its formidable fleet which colonised country after country, proudly declaring that: “The sun never sets on the British empire”? It is a rather delicate matter to boast of an ideal democracy, when it was only in the recent past that British imperialism stifled the liberties of many great countries, now flourishing democracies.

There is specific intelligence that another attack is imminent in Britain as the threat level has been set at severe, which is the second highest in the land. What should be asked of the PM is why there was no prior intelligence of the intent and the plot of one 52-year-old Briton who converted to Islam and changed his name to Khaled Massoud, guilty of several crimes, jailed twice, travelled three times to Saudi Arabia and was already a subject of investigation of the eminent M15 over suspected extremism. How did he slip through the cracks? 

Stepping up policy at the cost of 2.5 billion Sterling pounds in building global security and intelligence networks, M15, M16, adding 1,900 staff, comes too late to help the victims.

Muslims have suffered more at the hands of Islamic terrorists than all the Western countries combined. Egypt has suffered under the brief rule of the (MB), Monstrous Brotherhood, and is currently at war with Hamas and other terrorist factions at the borders in Sinai, Libya and within its cities and towns. For decades it has embraced tens of millions of refugees from Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Libya and continues to do so, without credit or acknowledgment, while the West tout their acceptance of a few thousand.

Terrorism in Islam is the politics of the day, but have we forgotten the zeal of Irish terrorists against British occupation or terrorism throughout history in both East and West? Those are criminals pure and simple.     

It is not a question of Eastern governments or Western democracies. Moreover, the British meridian places London in both the Eastern and Western hemispheres.

What is East and where is West? It transcends both worlds. East is where the sun rises, West is where it sets. Period.

In his famous ballad “East and West” published in 1889, British poet and Nobel Laureate, Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), subtly suggests that all humanity is the same regardless of race, colour or creed. Born in Bombay, he was a man of both worlds, understood and honoured men of other races deeply, which shocked English writers of his time. Lord Tennyson commented: “Young Kipling is the only one of them worth the divine fire.”

Kipling may have started his ballad with negative connotations, but ends it emphasising our human equality and similarity. We must read between the lines to comprehend the spirit of his ideas. Surely we speak different languages, eat different foods, follow different traditions, wear different attires, but in essence we are all human, created by one God and no race has priority or superiority over another.

The ‘Ballad of East and West” tells the story of Kamal, an Afghani border thief at the Khyber Pass who ventures in British territorial India and steals the British colonel’s favourite mare. Enraged, the colonel’s son follows the thief at great risk. He fires twice at Kamal, missing him.  Now at Kamal’s mercy, instead of being slaughtered, Kamal shows his admiration for the courage of the young officer, grips him by the hand and sets him upon his feet.  The two strong men look at each other in admiration and the colonel’s son says: “Take up the mare for my father’s gift”. Kamal refuses. He not only returns the mare loaded with gifts, but sends his only son to protect and serve the colonel’s son: “Thy father has sent his son to me/ I send my son to him.” The men embrace sharing the same nobility, courage and integrity.


“But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,

When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth”.

It is not Islam but criminals who terrorise.

“Men are cruel, but man is kind”

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)

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